photo by Alex Lear






            At the colloquium on the first day I heard a paper by Kwadwo Opoku Agyemang from the University of Cape Coast. "Culture Under Siege: The Making Of Africa's Heart Of Darkness" addressed the issue of how the slave trade affected those who were left behind. 

            A society that lives under a real and constant threat of enslavement consists of potential slaves; and a society of potential slaves will experience a psychological development peculiar to the environment. The culture of the besieged society will acquire certain characteristics and tendencies in order to fight, adapt to or in some way survive the catastrophe. When a society is so placed and must bend all its strengths to preserve its collective life and cannot grow beyond shrill survival, then its culture will fold into itself; it becomes a grim and conservative society, its people huddle together, furtive and afraid, in a state of shock and suffering traumata, a wounding. 

            He spoke about the phobias resulting from this trauma. He talked about moral breakdown. Moral stories that were told to children. In these stories the thief doesn't get caught nor punished.

            Kwadwo suggests that the point of the story was to teach children not to trust people. Why? Because, during the period of the slave trade, the people you trust just might be the ones to sell you into slavery.

            Some of the responses took exception. They offered no disproving evidence. They didn't even offer alternate theories. They just didn't want to accept that slavery had affected those left behind to that extent.

            Many Ghanaians are very, very proud of their traditions. But suppose a lot of what was created, was created in reaction and relation to the slave trade? Suppose significant aspects of one's proud culture wasn't really self-determined traditions but rather reactions to the slave trade? Suppose negatively reacting to the slave trade was a major part of one's cultural tradition?.

            Kwadwo talked about scarification. A concept almost indelibly identified with traditional Africa. Kwadwo searched for the beginning of scarification. He found periods where there was no sacrification. He found slave documents suggesting that slave traders avoided slaves with unsightly scars. He talked about "a little gem of a short story by the Senegalese writer and filmmaker, Sembene Ousmane," called "Tribal Scars or the Voltaique" in which a father brutally scars his little girl's face and body to protect her from slavery. He talks about the absence of scarification in the New World. He talked about how scarification was a survival tactic.

            During the question and answer period, I shared information I had read in The Bush Rebels, A Personal Account Of Black Revolt In Africa by Barbara Cornwall, a freelance, American journalist who walked through the bush with Frelimo in Mozambique and PAIGC in Portuguese Guinea. 

            Fortunately we were met by a Land Rover along the route and were soon rolling to a halt at the edge of a clearing where long columns of barefooted Mozambican civilians had set down their loads for barter. They were Makondes from a tribe in Cabo Delgado, a purportedly fierce people who at puberty carve geometrical designs across their faces and then rub charcoal into the fresh wounds. The scarring is done during a ceremony for both boys and girls and the final result on their dark skins is quite impressive. More startling at first encounter are two additional operations, both optional, during which a metal peg is driven into the initiate's upper lip and secured on each side by an iron disc, then the teeth are filed to points. The entire practice of maiming is a custom dating from the slave trade era when the Makondes hoped, often justifiably, that slavers would pass them over because of their grisly appearance. Their market price would not have covered the cost of their transport because few buyers would bid on a fanged slave when more presentable ones were available. (P. 20) 

            Kwadwo Opoku Tgyemany stated that when it came to analyzing the beginnings  and origins of some social practices, many, many Africans have an amnesia surrounding the slave trade. They simply say "that's the way things were always done."

            Kwadwo Opoku Tgyemany made me understand that "always" is only five hundred years long. Always is really not that long.

            Besides always is a Eurocentric concept used to justify their dominance. Nothing that is material or social is eternal. Everything must change. That law of life is our greatest hope. Always don't last forever.








            On 6 December 1994, the day Nia and I left for Ghana, New Orleans, the murder capital of the United States had reached 393 murders for the year. By the time we get back on 20 December 1994, the murder rate will surely be over 400. The overwhelming majority of these murders are "Black on Black."




            At first the major barter item was the gun. Guns came to Africa from Europe. Once in the hands of African mercenaries, then the slave trade began in earnest. Those who were without guns were preyed upon by those who had them.

            Soon guns were everywhere, even though everyone did not have a gun, and there was a complete breakdown of social order in the face of constant marauding, constant murdering and constant enslaving. The proliferation of guns historically has resulted in social chaos.




            The gun make you feel funny, feel like you different, almost invincible. Don't have to take nothing off nobody. Can do whatever you want.

            Gun culture is aggression and instantaneous obliteration of whomever troubles you.

            In a moment of anger, if you got a gun, you pull the trigger. Had it been a fist fight it would have been different. You may even have knocked the man down, kicked him once or twice, but rarely actually beat him to death with your hands. But with a gun, umh. Let that fellow look at you wrong, and, boy, he dead for sure. You fire him up.

            And the stuff happens so fast, so fast.

            Gun culture is swift death even before you have time to think about what you are doing. Put a gun in the hands of a man who feels less of a man than "the man" and the armed creature stiffens like an aroused prick.

            I watch the soldiers with guns in Ghana. You don't see them often. Around the President, at some official function when there are big people to protect. But wherever you see them, the hard stance is the same. Gun eyes look at you. Daring you to do something untoward, not to mention flat out wrong.

            Man with gun always speaks in bullets.

            Gun culture. The gun. You walk around with a perpetual hard-on, always ready to fuck someone.


—kalamu ya salaam